I find myself having a particular conversation over and over again. People keep asking me if I plan to have children. The question itself is inoffensive, and I don’t mind politely answering: “no, Jon and I have no plans for children.” If only friends would accept this answer, but they don’t.
Instead, they just keep pressing the point over the course of weeks, months, and years. They say, “oh, you’re going to have children. You know it.” They say, “I know you say you don’t want kids, but I really think you would make such an incredible father.” They say all of this with a beseeching look in their eye. They really want this for me. They really suspect that I’m making the wrong choice and it would be better for me if I decided to have children.
This is when I get angry. I struggle to keep the rage back. Not too many things make me angry, but this does.
I wish people would just accept my simple answer, but too many people keep pushing me. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that these statements are not going to stop, so I might as well explain, once and for all, why I am choosing not to be a parent. I wish I didn’t have to say any of this. Quite a lot of it is painful and excruciatingly personal. I don’t owe this explanation to anyone and I resent the fact that I find myself even writing it down. But, here we are.
I am not confident that I would be safe for my child.
Let’s get the ugly part out of the way first. I’m not confident I would be a safe parent. I don’t mean that I would be abusive. Rather, I think a combination of a small child (or even a teenage child, for that matter) with my mental health would create an incredibly dangerous and unstable home environment. My brain is fine up until the moment I get pushed too hard, and little things can do that: not enough sleep and overwork, primarily, and both of those are the hallmarks of having children.
Maintaining my well-being is a full-time job. It never stops. I monitor my mental health on a daily basis the way a diabetic monitors their blood sugar. I live with a sort of Ragnarok hanging over my head, and I have no guarantee that my current wellness will persist. A child would be like a grenade hurled into that dynamic.
Do you want a child in a home with a non-responsive father? With a father who is bed-ridden, curled in the fetal position, and wails, and wails, and wails for hours without relief? A father who self-injures? A father who can’t care for his own needs, let alone anyone else’s? A father who, when pushed too hard, tips into psychosis? That’s when the real horrors begin. Do you want a child to grow up knowing that they were the trigger for a father’s mental spiral and all the tragedy that might follow? Would you want a child to survive the marital strife that inevitably results from such a dynamic?
It’s similar to telling me, again and again, despite full awareness of my lifelong battle with mental illness and my constant protestations that I know what’s best for myself, “no, you really need to get a gun. It’s really important for self-defense, and guns are so much fun.” I will never get myself a gun. I’m afraid that I would kill myself with it if I had a bad episode. Likewise, I should never have a child.
I have friends who were raised by parents who were mentally and emotionally unfit for parenthood, and their lives are ruined as a result. I don’t want that for a child. Do you?
I don’t experience any lack in my life without children.
I don’t ever fantasize about having children. I’ve never for a moment wondered if I would prefer to have a boy or a girl, or what I would name them. It has never even occurred to me to think about such things. I don’t ever look at fathers and grieve that I will never experience what they experience. I understand that this seems very alien to some people, but it isn’t an arrangement I chose. It’s just how I am.
I’m happy. My life is stable. My mind is steady for the time being. My partnership and home are full of mutual love, support, and tenderness. I am never lonely. I have dear friends and many acquaintances. I commit myself to higher causes that give me purpose: I serve a religious community I love, I manage a company that makes food affordable to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access it, and I have mentored many people over the years. I have fun, I don’t overwork myself, and I’m content. All without children.
I have worked so hard to build a good life in spite of the horrors that life has thrown at me. For now, I’m happy with what I have. I know that peace is fragile and precious — that’s the one thing I know better than anything else. My peace is hard won and likely won’t last forever. Why, if I don’t feel a deep need for children, would I ever imperil that?
It would be impossible with my living arrangement, life, and career.
I started this section by giving a rundown of my living situation, career, housing, finances, and relationship, and finally gave up, deciding that it’s a bit more information than I want to divulge to strangers on the internet.
Rest assured, I don’t have a life that is hospitable to children, and it would be near impossible to change those circumstances at this point.
I don’t like most children, and I think that’s ok.
Here’s a list of qualities I dislike in another person:
- Lack of a theory of mind
- Compulsive lying
- Poor emotional regulation
- Poor hygiene
- Nerve-shredding loudness.
These are almost all innate features of children, and they are all developmentally appropriate. But I just hate these traits. Children shred my psyche. I don’t like children as people. I don’t think they’re cute. I don’t find gratification in spending time with them. I don’t think infants are adorable. I don’t understand what people like about the smell of them. I don’t think there’s anything magical about childhood. There certainly wasn’t anything magical about mine.
If my circumstances were different and I found myself as a parent, I would do my best. I might even end up being glad that I was a father.
But why, looking at the choice from the outside, would I make that risk? The risk just strikes me as too grave. Sure, maybe I would discover that I loved fatherhood. Or maybe I would just hate the presence of my own child and want to escape them, and grow resentful and bitter as a result. Do you really want me to make that risk? Really?
People struggle with this one. They hear that I don’t like children and leap to the absurd conclusion that I must hate all of humanity, or wish children ill and think they are undeserving of love, or hate myself because I was once a child. Nothing can be further from the truth. (And yes, these are all things people have told me when I divulge that I don’t like children.)
To quote a friend of mine, children are a perpetually oppressed minority. They are without fail abused, coerced, deprived, and tortured in every generation. They deserve to be defended. A society that is compassionate and supportive of children and those who want them is a better society for everyone. If parents around me have children, I do my very best to support them. I even do my best to spend time with the children, if that helps.
None of this is in conflict with the fact that I generally dislike small children. Justice, compassion, and empathy are principles that float free of my personal likes and dislikes.
Just because I’d be good at something doesn’t mean I should do that thing.
Let’s return to the most common refrain I hear regarding children. “You would make such a wonderful father. You would create such a good home.”
I think I understand why people say this. Child rearing has been the most wonderful and formative refining fire in their life. It has made them happy, so they want that for me. I get it. They also see how much I love other people around me, and don’t understand why I wouldn’t want to extend that love to my own children.
If my circumstances were different – if I were straight and impregnated a wife or girlfriend who wanted to keep the child, or found myself partnered with someone who had kids, I would do my very best to love them and be a good father. I would try to give them the best childhood I could. I have grave doubts that I would be able to do that, but I would try. And who knows? Maybe I would succeed, and count it as one of the greatest joys of my life.
But that will never happen. I’m a gay man in a long-term monogamous relationship. The birth control will never fail. There will never be a passionate slip and a surprise pregnancy. Children will never be something that “just happens.” I have to very deliberately opt-in to parenting. I have to go through numerous hoops or complex relationship arrangements to obtain a child. From my vantage point, the risks of doing so are just too dire.
When people tell me that I am missing out on something uniquely wonderful, transcendent, and life-changing by not having children, I believe them. I might even be good at it. But that doesn’t mean I should pursue it.
Living a good life is about doing beautiful, fulfilling things, certainly. But equally so, a good life is about accepting the negative space: there are many things that you could do that are good, noble, and wonderful, and yet you won’t ever do those things. Life, by its nature, means missing out. Peace will only come when we accept that.
This is the life I have; I have been dealt a particular hand. Part of that hand includes not having children, and I feel no ache in response to that fact. I feel no yearning. I’m ok. I’ve accepted it.
I would very much like for you to accept that for me, too. And If you aren’t able to accept or understand everything I have said in this post, fine. I simply request that you demonstrate the easy, simple courtesy of not insisting I second-guess my choice.